Mindfulness Initiative Helps Students Build Key SkillsSeptember 17, 2018
Holistic physician Amy Saltzman defines mindfulness as “Paying attention to your life, here and now, with kindness and curiosity.” While mindfulness seems to have become the latest trend, research with various populations tells us that regular practice can help us regulate our emotions, be happier and more productive, feel less stressed, learn better, sleep better and ultimately, improve overall physical health.
Mindfulness-based interventions progressed through healthcare and mental health institutions, and found their way into schools in the early 2000s, gaining in popularity over the last decade. Multiple studies of school-based mindfulness programs have shown notable improvements in student attention span, emotional regulation, compassion, and adaptability.
For some time, Green Chimneys’ clinical and direct care staff has incorporated mindfulness-based interventions into daily practices, with observed success. This summer, we decided to see what would happen if we imbedded a structured mindfulness program across the board and the “Summer of Mindfulness” initiative was born!
Making Time for Mindfulness
It began with a social-emotional skills period added to the weekly schedule for our 13 elementary and middle school classrooms. Clinical staff came together to adapt and facilitate a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (of which mindfulness is a key component) curriculum to teach basic skills, while keeping summer fun in mind. The result was a wonderful mix of psychoeducation and active skills practice that our younger students could understand, apply, and enjoy. A walk through the school during group time offered a glimpse of mindful breathing using pinwheels or bubbles; balancing feathers in the hand; a game of wise mind charades; or a silent moment with only the pleasant sound of bells.
Many youth who were typically unable to remain in class for more than a few minutes at a time, were, by the later sessions, participating in the full 37-minute period. One teacher assistant was surprised when her class of young adolescents let go of their self-consciousness to participate in an uproarious rendition of “Row, row, row your boat.” A group facilitator was overjoyed to see her students arguing about who got to lead that week’s yoga pose.
Social Worker Craig Northrop suggests the reason these activities were such a success: “We had a 37-minute class period each week and early on, some of our teens were kind enough to remind me of that time limit. But one activity engaged them so much that we met for over an hour…it’s hard to say what it was about playing a super-sized game of Jenga that made this possible. I like to think it was simply finding a way to make being present in the moment a fun place to be.”
The summer program was tracked using the Child & Adolescent Mindfulness Scale (CAMMS) and we are currently analyzing the data gathered. We hope to demonstrate the effectiveness of teaching mindfulness and will continue to find ways to engage our students in activities that develop their cognitive and emotional intelligence.